African Woman (Twella)

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    Photo: Stephen Pitkin/Pitkin Studio
Wood, glitter, wood putty, costume jewelry, paint
32.5 inches
Collection of
Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco museum purchase American Art Trust Fund and gift of the Souls Grown Deep Foundation

Bessie Harvey’s African Woman (Twella) recalls African prestige staffs, with their connotations of power, protections, divination, and magic—attributes embodied in the figure’s multiple arms. As the title suggests, a study of African art led Harvey to consciously invoke such ancestral links in order to project pride in her historical heritage, while still creating objects relevant to her contemporary experience.

This sculpture is one of Harvey’s “dolls” or “little people” that she endowed with human traits. They populated an alternative world that offered refuge from the hardships of her life: “When I began to do the sculptures, to me they were my dolls, they were my freedom from this world, that I could go into them, and I could talk to God, and that the spirit would release me from all of the hurt, and I could hear him speak to me and talk to me.” —Timothy Anglin Burgard